When virtual private networks (VPNs) were first introduced, they simply didn’t have a COVID-19-driven stay-at-home workforce in mind. The original intent was to handle a relatively small number of mobile employees or remote offices that needed access to business services. But as a result of the pandemic, nearly everyone is working from home now, putting enormous strains on company VPNs.
During a recent CUBE conversation, NETSCOUT CTO, Enterprise Paul Barrett described the growing importance of VPNs. “With so many people working from home, there is now an increased reliance on real-time services, such as unified communications and collaboration (UC&C), which are highly susceptible to poor network transmission,” Barrett said. “Things such as latency and packets being dropped can hinder the performance of VPNs. In order to deal with such problems, IT professionals need to understand the root cause of the issues, whether it’s a saturated VPN concentrator or a problem that resides with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider.”
The Importance of Monitoring the Network
While many companies have been focused on business resiliency and disaster recovery capabilities, gaining visibility into the performance of your VPN is key to isolating problems, which ultimately cuts down on wasteful finger-pointing and speeds remediation.
Most businesses are using either a full-VPN service or a split-VPN service. A full-VPN service is one in which all connections to the internet or business services are done securely over the company’s VPN connection. This is especially prevalent with companies that have stringent security and compliance requirements, such as financial services organizations. A split-VPN service allows users to go through the corporate VPN for critical business services but use a public internet connection for less sensitive and/or personal purposes. This approach takes pressure off VPN concentrators by reducing traffic going through the VPN.
Monitoring network traffic is the best way to ensure that applications and services are healthy and available. According to Barrett, monitoring traffic is critical to understanding how the service is being used. “An effective monitoring solution can provide visibility into the interactions between different systems,” he said. “It’s amazing how often in large, complex environments there may be dependencies that people didn’t even know existed. By looking at all of the traffic flowing between different systems, IT can begin to understand what the dependencies are. Is a particular sub-component starting to fail? Is it becoming slow? Is it generating errors?” Effective monitoring enables IT to troubleshoot more quickly, Barrett explained, which gives IT professionals the ability to rapidly isolate problems and avoid the finger-pointing that is so common with complex systems.
As digital transformation efforts accelerate, Barrett believes monitoring will become increasingly essential. “As we continue to build complex systems with machines talking to machines, visibility is crucial,” he said. “The thought of operating these kinds of environments without maximum visibility is downright terrifying. It’s like driving a high-performance racing car without a safety harness. The point is, visibility is absolutely key as we move toward further automation.